In the summer of 2015, residents of Linden Hills and surrounding communities sent scores of comments to Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano and city planners about a proposed four-story, 56-foot mixed-use apartment building at the old Famous Dave’s site in the heart of the 43rd & Upton commercial district.
Residents, many of whom expressed opposition to the project, said they feared it would ruin the character of the neighborhood, that the proposed building design didn’t fit with the area and that it would tower over nearby buildings.
“The proposed development is too big for the location and would destroy the rare and much-loved atmosphere of downtown Linden Hills,” Hannah Pepin wrote.
The apartment project had its particularities — notably the fact that a previous development fight on the site had led to the creation of a small area plan that called for building heights of no more than 42 feet on the site. But many of the concerns raised by Linden Hills residents echo those expressed by other homeowners and businesspeople as new apartment buildings sprout up across Minneapolis and leaders in City Hall push to increase housing density in every corner of the city.
While proposals for new apartment buildings are routinely debated and resisted, less attention has been paid to how those buildings actually impact their neighborhoods once they are in the ground.
In Linden Hills, the building on the Famous Dave’s site, Linden43, has been open for over two years. People young and old live in its 29 one- and two-bedroom units. Bremer Bank, Copilot Dog Outfitters and Mint Orthodontics make their home in its first floor. While there may still be hard feelings over the long process that took place over the site, most business owners and residents of the area have moved on.
Tim Galligan, who lived on the 3900 block of Thomas Avenue in 2015, was one of the Linden Hills residents who opposed it. “It seems that when a developer is involved, politics plays a bigger role,” he wrote to Palmisano in 2015. “I do not see density as a condition for getting a variance but it seems to be a hidden agenda.”
In an October interview, he said he thinks the site looks better now that it has the building on it. “I think [the building] is pretty appropriate for the neighborhood,” he said. “It seems to fit.”
Galligan said his bigger problem is with the development process. “[The city] gives you a forum to vent, but you feel like you’re not heard,” he said.
Worries about ‘charm’
Linden43 opened in August 2017, two years after receiving city approval.
It was the third project proposed for the site, which is zoned as a C1 “Neighborhood Commercial District.” Development in C1 districts can be three stories or 42 feet by right, though the City Council has discretion to increase height, with conditions. (The Minneapolis 2040 Plan, which takes effect this year, allows development of up to four stories on the site.)
The first project planned for the site, formally proposed by Linden Hills resident Mark Dwyer in 2011, was a five-story, 40-unit condo building with commercial space. Dozens of Linden Hills residents and business owners opposed the plans, citing concerns such as parking and the area losing its “charm.”
“The sheer magnitude of the proposed Linden Corner development would forever destroy the character and the scale of what many of us, including this developer, refer to as the ‘village,’” Clancey’s Meats & Fish owner Kristin Tombers wrote in a February 2012 Southwest Journal op-ed. (Tombers declined to comment for this story.)
Some residents and business owners organized and appealed a February 2012 Planning Commission approval of the project. The next month, the City Council nixed the plans and placed a moratorium on large-scale development in Linden Hills to allow for the creation of a small-area plan, which is intended to serve as a guide for development in the neighborhood.
The plan, approved in December 2013, calls for building heights that reflect the “adjacent architectural context” and are shorter than what the zoning code allows.
But before the plan was approved, in October 2012, Dwyer received approval for a three-story condo building on the site that didn’t require a conditional-use permit for the building height. In July 2014, he asked for and received a conditional-use permit to add an extra story to the building.
In February 2015, developer Clark Gassen purchased the site from Dwyer and pitched plans for the current four-story building that sits there today.
Dwyer and Gassen declined to comment for this story.
The three homeowners who live closest to Linden43 said it hasn’t had that much of an impact on them. Some Linden Hills residents had written in comments to Palmisano and city staffers that they worried about the building shadowing those homes.
“The details make a difference,” said Jason Krause, who manages his family’s liquor store in South Minneapolis and owns the home closest to the site. He said living next to the development has been fine and that construction was less disruptive than he thought it would be.
He and neighbors Judy Myers and Jeff Mellas said simply having a building on the property has given them more privacy. When the site was empty, people could see into their yards from the Linden Hills business district.
Mellas, who lived in New York before moving into Linden Hills in July 2014, said the building is attractive and “doesn’t create any noise that wasn’t there already.”
“The apartment building hasn’t really decreased any standard of living,” he said.
Bill Geddes, who owns a house abutting France Avenue, was one of the few local residents to write in support of the variance in 2015.
Today, he said he thinks the building looks great. “I haven’t noticed any issues with increased traffic,” he said. “I think overall it’s been nothing but good.”
He said he thinks there are a lot of positives to allowing higher-density housing, including that it allows for economic diversity within neighborhoods.
Still, concerns over parking remain, especially for businesses in the node.
Paul Beach, an employee of Coffee and Tea Limited along 43rd Street, said parking in the area is a “nightmare.” Steve Arnold, owner of the Great Harvest Bakery franchise in the node, said parking is crucial to the success of the area’s local businesses.
Palmisano, who represents Linden Hills and supported the project in 2015, said she no longer hears concerns about the building but does hear concerns about parking in the area.
She said she’s glad there’s something on the corner rather than an empty restaurant space and that she doesn’t think the building has affected the area’s character.
Anders Culver rents a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of Linden43. The 29-year-old software engineer, who has lived in different neighborhoods of South Minneapolis over the past 4-5 years, said he didn’t hear too much about the prolonged fight over the building’s approval until after he moved in.
He frequents local restaurants like Zumbro Cafe and the (now closed) Rose Street Patisserie and said he’s never been made to feel unwelcome in the neighborhood because he lives in Linden43.
“I’ve never really noticed any hostile neighbors,” he said. “If we told people we lived in Linden43, they didn’t turn their noses up at us or anything.”